Paul Scruggs had 17 points and six assists and also came up with a key play to help Xavier hold off upset-minded Niagara 63-60 in Cincinnati in the opener for both teams on Tuesday night.
The Musketeers were playing without All-Big East first-team preseason selection Zach Freemantle, out until at least some next month with a foot injury.
Scruggs, also a first-team preseason Big East honoree, made one of two foul shots to give Xavier a 55-50 lead.
Niagara’s Marcus Hammond, who led all scorers with 25 points, then front-rimmed a 3-point attempt. Scruggs grabbed the rebound and then raced up the court for a fast-break layup and a 57-50 lead.
Niagara didn’t get closer than four until the end.
Colby Jones added 16 points for the Musketeers.
The Musketeers opened the second half with an 11-4 run to take a 40-27 lead on Nate Johnson’s 3-pointer from the left wing off a pass from Jones with 13:55 left. Those were Johnson’s only points of the game. Niagara struggled offensively during that span, missing 4 of 6 shots and committing two turnovers.
The Purple Eagles eventually cut their deficit to 49-40 with 7:41 remaining on a layup by Hammond and quickly called a timeout. But Xavier ran down most of the shot clock and answered with a trey from Jones to extend the lead back to 12.
Dwon Odom’s driving layup with 6:58 left in the first half capped an 8-0 run and gave the Musketeers a 21-11 advantage. A three-pointer by Iowa transfer Jack Nunge began the run.
But Niagara hung tough and closed to 25-21 on two foul shots by Hammond with 2:31 left in the half. That gave Hammond 13 points in the half. Xavier claimed a 29-23 halftime lead on Nunge’s basket with two seconds left on an assist by Scruggs.
–Field Level Media